AFI - Live in Los Angeles (Cover Artwork)


Live in Los Angeles (2022)

live show

I should probably lead this review with a disclosure. In the past 20 years, I’ve seen AFI more than any other band (other than maybe Caustic Christ, as I lived in Pittsburgh during the time when they were seemingly playing every weekend.) I had some conflicting emotions during AFI’s really big era, and my sixteen-year-old brain would have certainly melted if you had told me that a little over a decade later, (1) my not-particularly-interested-in-cool-rock-music coworker (2) from my boring office job would be telling me that (3) she knows an AFI song (4) from a video game after (5) we heard them on the local rock radio station in her car on the way to lunch.

Sometime around 2009, the shock of how big they had gotten wore off, and I realized there were plenty of other bands playing good punk and hardcore, and AFI shows could become a thing I enjoy again if I just appreciated them for what they were instead of wishing for them to be something they weren’t. To their credit, I’ve never seen them half-ass a show, even when they stopped regularly playing most of my favorite old songs, and the setlists through the 2010’s actually became fairly unpredictable, especially on their headlining dates following 2017’s officially self-titled “Blood” album. So, that’s where I’m coming from when evaluating the March 25 and 26 shows at the Hollywood Palladium, the band’s first in almost 3 years.

Cold Cave had originally been scheduled to open both nights, as these shows were planned as the last two of a run of US tour dates with AFI. When all the dates except these were rescheduled to later in the year, Cold Cave vacated that slot. While part of me was hoping AFI’s recently-reunited 1995 split-mates Heckle would hop on as the opener (at least some members are on the west coast now, I think), the openers that did play complemented AFI’s current style well.

The first night featured Sacred Skin. I spent most of their set taking way too long to think of Tears For Fears as the band they reminded me of the most. Primarily an electronic duo on their recordings, they expanded to a 4-piece live, which allowed for a memorable relatively guitar-heavy outro. At the end of their set, the drummer stepped forward and I noticed that it was AJ English, previously of the no wave-influenced hardcore band Coming. I had just asked a friend “whatever happened to Coming?” a couple days before this show. Plate of shrimp, man.

Night two was opened by MOTHERMARY, a pair of ex-Mormon sisters who left the faith to indulge in the evils of artsy synth pop. Beginning with veils over their heads and starting right into their first song “Give It Up”, they presented a sacrilegious striptease over the course of the set, with some moments reminding me of 80s Madonna (and not just when they covered “Like a Virgin”.) Ten seconds into their performance, I heard a “what the hell is this?” from behind me, asked in a derisive tone that made me think the band was striking a nerve with some attendees. MOTHERMARY broke character midway through to give a bit of history on themselves, which lessened their mystique. Still, I dig seeing a band with the reach and solidly-established fanbase of AFI getting an opener who can freak out the squares, whether it’s Dillinger Escape Plan or Ceremony in 2006, or MOTHERMARY at the other end of the spectrum in 2022.

AFI hit the stage both nights with 1999’s “Strength Through Wounding”, which has frequently reclaimed the intro spot in recent years after taking a sabbatical since the early 00’s. This isn’t the first show I’ve been to since covid restrictions lessened, but it definitely felt good to be welcomed back with this one. Breakthrough hit “Girl’s Not Grey” was early in the set both nights as well, and although this has to be by the far the song AFI has played the most in their career, I’ve sort of grown to love it as an early set pick to keep crowd momentum going.

As far as the songs they played from 2021’s Bodies go, “Dulceria” was a standout for me both nights. Although it doesn’t have the singalong or dance-worthy parts of AFI favorites of yesteryear, its cool creeping bassline and sparse guitar make it unlike anything else in their catalog, and the band is clearly into playing it. I would have liked to hear “Death of the Party” as well, but it only made an indirect appearance in the form of messaging on the back of singer Davey Havok’s new jacket.

Although they didn’t pull out any pre-Jade Puget-on-guitar songs from their first three albums (you’ve gotta get lucky to hear those ones live anymore), AFI threw a bone to not-quite-oldschool (mid-school?) fans by having 2000’s The Art of Drowning as the most represented album of the weekend. Six songs from it made appearances between the two nights, including relative live rarity “Of Greetings and Goodbyes”. That and 2003’s “Paper Airplanes” have both taken on second lives as set highlights after being played little-to-never when they were first released. Choices like that have kept AFI feeling like a vital live act long after some bands would have settled into complacency.

My main negative criticism of these shows is mostly rooted in my past experience seeing AFI two nights in a row at the same venue: the second show in this case didn’t necessarily feel like a second show. Past second shows have been notable for unusual opening songs, or drastically different visual elements (eg. the band wearing all white in the days before 2006’s Decemberunderground when that became a more common occurrence.) This is a minor complaint though, and is coming from a person who has put way too much thought into AFI setlists in the past 25 years.

As is to be expected at any show this big (the Palladium holds about 4000 people, and both nights sold out) the crowd was a mixed bag. There were a couple of high school football heroes loudly talking about how “no one can move [them] in a pit” through the quiet parts of Bodies album closer “Tied to a Tree”, but I probably wouldn’t have remembered it if they hadn’t explicitly mentioned playing high school football in their conversation. There were some memorably good moments as well, like several pillows being thrown around the venue during night two’s performance of “Days of the Phoenix”, which gave the show a little taste of the goofy chaos that happens at the kind of punk shows AFI cut their teeth playing in the 90s.

If I have to give the nod to one show over the other, it’s probably night one just because of the presence of 1999 All Hallow's EP banger “Totalimmortal” as a closer, but both represented a solid entrance back into the world of live performance for AFI. Looking forward to the next one.